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On Thursday, the Goa government announced its decision to extend the permission for all offshore casinos to continue operations on the River Mandovi. While this extension is one of numerous in the last few years, this is the first time the government has granted an extension for a year and not for six months.
Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant unveiled the decision on the sidelines of a cabinet meeting. He told media representatives that the government would maintain the status quo on the casino location until it identified a suitable alternative site. “We have granted an extension from October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2022,” Sawant said. He also confirmed that his government was still identifying an alternative site to relocate the casinos.
Offshore casinos are the heartbeat of real-money gaming in Goa, making the coastal state the poker capital of India. Still, their continued operations off River Mandovi have invited local protests and political turmoil in the past. Since the government has yet to develop a concrete, long-term policy to shift the casinos to a land-based location, it has been granting six-month extensions to these casinos for several years now.
The extension was given primarily for want of an alternative site. The state government said that the Home department and the Captain of Ports (CoP) had identified four possible alternatives, including the mouth of River Mandovi near Aguada jail, two on the River Zuari, and one off the River Chapora.
The government has even issued notices inviting objections from the public to these proposed sites and received several from individuals and village panchayats. “Since the identified sites were found to be technically not feasible, the issue of relocating the offshore casinos from river Mandovi could not be finalized,” read the cabinet note.
The cabinet has observed that an extension was the only way forward since feasible alternate sites haven’t been finalized.
Implications of the Extension
Six casinos operate on floating vessels moored on River Mandovi, namely Delta Corp’s Deltin Royale, Deltin JAQK and Deltin Caravela, Casino Majestic Pride, Casino Pride II, and Casino Big Daddy.
The pandemic-induced lockdown led to all casinos being shuttered for over seven months, starting mid-March last year. Casinos reopened on November 1, only to be closed again in April-end after the second wave brought a surge of COVID cases.
Goa has been under an extended state of lockdown since April-end. The much-awaited relief for the cash-strapped sector came on September 18, when CM Sawant green signaled the reopening of casinos with 50% capacity from September 20.
As far as the extension is concerned, the government had last approved a six-month extension to offshore casinos on February 17, valid from April 1 to September 30. The fact is, casinos form a significant bulk of revenue for the government. Since most industry sectors have been closed for months, the government can`t ignore the casino sector that plays a crucial role in promoting Goa as a tourist hotspot apart from employing many Goans. Not to forget the license fee and taxes that go into the state coffers.
While the casino policy and an inland setup for casinos would be a final and welcome solution, with the government grappling with the pandemic-led losses, the 12-month-long extension augers well for the casino operators.